Government suffers losses in Trinidad local elections; opposition gains ground
A nail biting finish to the 2016 local government elections in Trinidad and Tobago saw the People’s National Movement (PNM) government clinching a victory amid losing several districts in a few of the island’s municipalities and losing the popular vote to the opposition United National Congress (UNC).
UNC picked up a dozen districts held previously by the PNM and won the popular vote, amassing 122,558 (51%), some 200 more votes than the 2013 local election; while PNM got 117, 054 (49%), over 71,000 fewer votes than the 2013 local election.
Political analysts decried the election, calling it a loss for the people of Trinidad and Tobago because it was the lowest voter turnout recorded in a local election in recent history.
In spite of losing ground, Prime Minister Keith Rowley nevertheless told supporters in Port of Spain that the election was a handsome victory for the PNM.
“We’re very pleased with results; it was a handsome victory for which we’re grateful,” he said.
Opposition leader Kamla Persad Bissessar said it was a victory for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
“Tonight I believe is a victory for the people of Trinidad and Tobago. We asked that the people send a message to the Government that there was so much pain and suffering that the time for change has come. We trust that the Rowley Government received that message,” she said.
Monday’s election saw a perplexing result that initially showed both parties drawn down the middle, with seven corporations each going to the PNM and UNC respectively. But later into the night, PNM’s chairman Franklin Khan said the results showed seven corporations for the PNM, six for the UNC and there was a tie in the now highly controversial Toco/Sangre Grande Corporation.
Both PNM and UNC won four districts each in that corporation, with initial results from the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) declaring a victory for the UNC in the corporation as they attained over 500 more votes than the PNM.
However, in a hastily called news conference on Tuesday, the PNM’s chairman told the media it was his party that edged out by a little over 500 votes.
In what looked like an unprecedented and strange case of a political party usurping the authority of the EBC, Khan said, “According to their figures, the PNM won 10,399 votes in Sangre Grande and the UNC 9,959.”
In response, the UNC political leader Persad-Bissessar called Khan’s claims “nonsensical”.
“Mr Khan made these arrogant and incredible claims based on a nonsensical legal interpretation about selection of a chairman, viz., incumbency of the PNM’s SG chairman, the ‘popular vote’ and ‘spirit of the law’.
“This is patently false and demonstrates willful ignorance and arrogance on the part of the Rowley PNM,” she said.
Calls to the EBC’s communications manager’s phone, Dominic Hinds, went unanswered. Other media outlets complained about the EBC’s refusal to respond to the PNM’s claims.
Khan saw the elections as a victory for the PNM on election night and a loss for the UNC, claiming the Sangre Grande seat was a tie. Yet the same PNM chairman in his Tuesday news conference, as he claimed victory for the Sangre Grande Corporation, said the PNM now has eight corporations and UNC six, rolling back his initial conclusion that the position of parties holding four districts each is a tie.
By the proportional representation system, both PNM and UNC will be allotted two aldermen each in the deadlock scenario.
EBC’s ongoing challenges
Despite being hauled before the courts by the UNC for major election law breaches following the 2015 general elections, the Elections and Boundaries Commission once again rattled UNC executive members on election day, when they (the EBC) shifted polling stations from one area to the other, but only in the UNC strongholds of Chaguanas and the Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo regional corporation. Polling stations were moved between schools, causing chaos for voters and frustrating the voting process that saw UNC officials scampering for transportation to get voters to the other locations to vote.
There were other complaints from UNC campaign managers from other parts of the island about the EBC shifting polling stations from one area to the other unknown to the UNC and their candidates.
In another UNC stronghold in the Princes Town area, the polls opened for voting at 8:00 am instead of the legal 6:00 am time.
The EBC simply called the infractions an administrative error.
UNC MP, Rudy Indharsingh told Caribbean News Now that the UNC filed a complaint with the EBC’s CEO Ramesh Nanan.
“It’s highly suspicious; shifts were done so suddenly in this PNM-held seat. EBC didn’t notify any level of the UNC. Voters were confused and upset — totally unsatisfactory on EBC’s part,” Indharsingh complained.
This follows a litany of flaws coming out of the EBC that has affected mainly the UNC.
Two weeks ago, the EBC published names of local government candidates in the Trinidad Express newspaper and placed the PNM’s logo next to the names of UNC candidates, while they never published the names of the UNC candidates for the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation at all.
The following Wednesday, an EBC official and returning officer for the Siparia Regional Corporation was seen having lunch with PNM minister, Lovell Francis, at a restaurant in San Fernando.
Persad-Bissessard hinted at possible legal action against the EBC on those matters.
She also insisted that the outcome of the local elections is a “sign of victory to come”.
Allocations of seats in Regional Corporations:
Arima: 7 PNM; 0 UNC
Siparia: 4 PNM; 5 UNC
Chaguanas: 3 PNM; 5 UNC
Point Fortin: 6 PNM; 0 UNC
Penal/Debe: 0 PNM; 9 UNC
Princes Town: 2 PNM; 8 UNC
Port of Spain: 12 PNM; 0 UNC
San Fernando: 9 PNM; 0 UNC
Diego Martin : 10 PNM; 0 UNC
Sangre Grande: 4 PNM; 4 UNC
Mayaro/Rio Claro: 2 PNM; 4 UNC
Tunapuna/Piarco: 14 PNM; 2 UNC
San Juan/Laventille: 11 PNM; 2 UNC
Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo: 0 PNM; 14 UNC